International Criminal Law and Human Security

Course content

Since WW II, prosecuting individuals for the commission of international crimes has become one of the central mechanisms in the international community’s quest for human security.  The development of international criminal law (ICL) began with the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, picked up speed with the Security Council’s establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and culminated with the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by more than 120 states. The institutional architecture of ICL is not limited, however, to international criminal tribunals (ICTs). A wide variety of states, from Senegal to Norway, have prosecuted – and continue to prosecute – international crimes in their domestic courts.

Adopting a historical, philosophical, and practical focus throughout, this course will cast a critical eye on the development and current functioning of international criminal law. In particular, the course will ask – and attempt to answer – two central questions: (1) to what extent has prosecuting individuals for committing international crimes contributed to human security? and (2) are alternatives to such prosecutions, such as transitional justice mechanisms like Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, more likely to succeed?

Topics covered will include:

  • The concept of individual criminal responsibility
  • The goals of international criminal law
  • The definitions of the “core” crimes of ICL: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and aggression
  • International vs transnational crimes
  • Defences to international crimes
  • The evolution, structure, and function of international criminal tribunals, particularly the ICC
  • How states prosecute international crimes
  • Transitional justice mechanisms

Security Risk Management

Political Science students: Limited intake

SRM students has priority

Learning outcome


Students will have a sound understanding of the concept of individual criminal responsibility, the historical evolution of ICTs, the definitions of the core international crimes, and alternatives to criminal prosecution such as transitional justice mechanisms. They will also acquire knowledge of more general concepts in public international law, such as state responsibility, the formation of customary international law, jurisdiction, and immunities


Students will be able to conduct historical research in ICL, read and critically analyze the jurisprudence of ICTs and national courts applying ICL, and apply their knowledge to real-world situations involving the commission of international crimes.


Students will be competent to develop policy recommendations based upon directed research, to communicate central concepts of ICL in clear and precise language, and to create and deliver effective presentations based on working in teams.

Each session will combine lecture with group discussion. Students will also be asked to work in teams to prepare and deliver a presentation on a topical issue in ICL.
There will be an ungraded group presentation in class

There is no central text for the course. Readings for individual lectures will likely include:


  • Martti Koskenniemi, “Between Show Trials and Impunity”


  • Lawrence Douglas, “History and Memory in the Courtroom: Reflections on Perpetrator Trials”


  • Kevin Jon Heller, “What Is an International Crime? (A Revisionist History)”


  • Mark Drumbl, “Children in Armed Conflict”


  • Sasha Greenawalt, “Rethinking Genocidal Intent: The Case for a Knowledge-Based Interpretation”


  • Claus Kress, “On the Outer Limits of Crimes against Humanity: The Concept of Organization within the Policy Requirement: Some Reflections on the March 2010 ICC Kenya Decision”


  • Michael Glennon, “The Blank-Prose Crime of Aggression”


  • Ian Hurd, “How Not to Argue Against the Crime of Aggression: A Response to Michael Glennon”


  • Beth van Schaack, “The Crime of Aggression and Humanitarian Intervention on Behalf of Women”


  • Kevin Jon Heller, “The Illegality of ‘Genuine’ Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention”


  • Jack Goldsmith, “The Self-Defeating International Criminal Court”


  • Thomas M. Franck & Stephen H. Yuhan, “The United States and the International Criminal Court: Unilateralism Rampant”


  • Margaret deGuzman, “Choosing to Prosecute: Expressive Selection at the International Criminal Court”


  • Payam Akhavan, “Are International Criminal Tribunals a Disincentive to Peace? Reconciling Judicial Romanticism with Political Realism”


  • David Wippman, “Atrocities, Deterrence, and the Limits of International Criminal Justice”

Although there are no academic prerequisites, a basic familiarity with public international law and/or criminal law would be beneficial.

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Criteria for exam assesment

  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course's goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings
  • Grade 7 is given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • English
  • 28


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Full Degree Master

1 semester


Read more here -> Uddannelser -> Åbent Universitet

Department of Political Science, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Political Science
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Kevin Jon Heller   (11-726c7d70756f6c73736c7947706d7a35727c356b72)
Saved on the 23-11-2021

Are you BA- or KA-student?

Are you bachelor- or kandidat-student, then find the course in the course catalog for students:

Courseinformation of students